BBG Watch Commentary

As of today, officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) – the management and administrative arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting – can legally market and distribute Voice of America (VOA) and Radio and TV Marti news reports and programs to Americans. The same officials have been accused of practicing internal and external censorship, damaging the quality of VOA news, and being the worst managers in the federal government. They will now be in charge of feeding news, not just to foreign audiences, but also to Americans.

BBG Press Release:

BBG International Broadcasts Now Available Within The United States

Domestic BBG Program Request FAQs

Regulation on Domestic Requests for Broadcasting Board of Governors Material [pdf]

Broadcasting Administrative Manual: Policy on Domestic Distribution of Program Material [pdf]

International Broadcasting Bureau officials have been hiding from members of their bipartisan BBG oversight board and from American public news reports critical of their performance. The latest example  is an article in Columbia Journalism Review, which they failed to include in the BBG Media Highlights, a press roundup compiled under supervision of IBB officials.  These officials cannot be trusted and should be replaced.

 

Editor’s Note: Agency sources told BBG Watch that according to the official explanation from IBB, the Columbia Journalism Review article did not show up in an online search when those who compile the BBG Media Highlights released them Monday morning. But in the past, IBB officials had censored out numerous media articles out of the BBG Media Highlights. Sources told BBG Watch that the Columbia Journalism Review article will be included in the BBG Media Highlights tomorrow.

Contacted by reporters, a BBG Board member, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe who has been critical in the past of  IBB management practices, said that not including the Columbia Journalism Review article in the BBG Media Highlights distributed to the American public is difficult to understand. Ashe said that he does not know why it happened.

The latest example of what can be seen as International Broadcasting Bureau’s censorship practices came on the first day they are able to distribute news in the United States. An article by a former Voice of America journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review was omitted from the BBG Highlights.

The Columbia Journalism Review article was posted online several hours before the BBG Media Highlights were sent out today to subscribers. It is highly unlikely that IBB officials were unaware of its existence since their online search is exhaustive and includes even the most esoteric publications as long as the articles present them and the agency in a positive light. In any case, this is not the first time such censorship happened under their watch.

For more information about domestic distribution of VOA and Radio and TV Marti news programs by IBB officials, see:

Voice of America: Domestic Outlets Get Access to International Broadcasts

- Law change means thousands of new hours of broadcast-quality content By John Eggerton — Broadcasting & Cable, 7/1/2013 12:01:00 AM.

In a practice reminiscent of how members of the Soviet Politburo secretly received sensitive information, IBB officials would sometimes — but not always — include links of critical articles in private emails to BBG members. During the Cold War, secret news roundups for Politburo members consisted largely of transcripts of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America broadcasts.

On several occasions, members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors complained to IBB executives about their censorship practices. These complaints were ignored. The BBG board currently lacks a quorum with only one Republican and three Democratic members (it should have nine members and needs five for a quorum). The board cannot replace IBB Director Richard Lobo and his top deputies or even order them to take actions they disagree with.

But these IBB bureaucrats cannot be left in charge of distributing news to Americans and foreign audiences. Congress needs to step in and legislate reforms to allow the BBG board or some other oversight body to re-establish control over the IBB bureaucracy.

IBB executive staff has censored its Media Highlights on numerous occasions in the past by not listing articles critical of their management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded media agency. Articles in both mainstream media publications and in widely-read blogs, including The Heritage Foundation blog and World Affairs Journal, were censored out by IBB officials in the past from the BBG Media Highlights.

Gary Thomas’ article in Columbia Journalism Review is one of the most significant recent analyses of what is wrong with Voice of America news under the current management and what is wrong with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau. Unless the current IBB management is soon replaced, American journalists and broadcasters using Voice of America news and other programs should definitely become familiar with some of these issues outlined in the Columbia Journalism Review article.

SEE: Mission impossible – Is government broadcasting irrelevant? by Gary Thomas, Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 2013.

Article by former Voice of America (VOA) journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review on journalistic practices at VOA and management of U.S. international broadcasting within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). IBB executives did not include this article in their BBG Media Highlights posted online and distributed to subscribers in the United States and abroad. As of today, BBG can market its programs to Americans.

BBG Media Highlights – July 1, 2013
About Our Broadcasters
Voice of America: Domestic Outlets Get Access to International Broadcasts – Broadcasting & Cable, July 1, 2013In a move that could provide some low-cost, high-quality international news content to domestic cable and broadcast outlets, starting Tuesday thousands of hours of international video and radio news content from the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti will become available for domestic distribution for the first time.US criticizes Cambodia for ordering foreign-produced radio off air during election campaign – AP, June 28, 2013

Radio Free Asia said its Khmer service has been dropped by 10 stations. It called the directive “the most sweeping and stunning frontal assault on media freedom in Cambodia in recent memory.”

Voice of America also condemned it. Both networks are U.S. government funded.

Also mentioned by ReutersSouth China Morning PostCambodia Daily Cambodian government reverses ban on foreign media – Radio Australia, July 1, 2013

The ban on Khmer language broadcasts came to light late last week, but was rescinded after fierce criticism from the United States, who called it a serious infringement of freedom of expression. Radio Australia and America’s Radio Free Asia — which both produce Khmer language content — have welcomed the government’s change of heart.

Also mentioned by Bangkok Post

Cambodia Election Campaign Promises Little Change – Time, June 27, 2013

Radio Free Asia and Voice of America play a crucial role in disseminating alternative views to rural Cambodians, as press intimidation is rife. Nevertheless, CNRP strongholds are mainly urban. “The more educated people vote for us, as they know how the CCP works and don’t get scared and intimidated,” says Keo Phirum.

Here’s video of Jennifer Lopez’s birthday concert for one of Asia’s most notorious dicators – Washington Post, July 1, 2013

The few independent journalist there are tightly controlled and live under threat. A man with Radio Free Europe was arrested without charge just last month. In 2003, another Radio Free Europereporter wrote in the Washington Post about being detained, beaten, injected with an unknown substance and forced to pay a bribe for his release.

Coming Soon to Your Agency: Virtual Internships – Nextgov, June 28, 2013

The government will begin accepting applications on July 2 for the Virtual Student Foreign Service Program, an eInternship program that enables U.S. college students to work on special projects at select federal agencies. Previously, the program was only available at State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, but this year, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Commerce and Agriculture departments also will offer virtual positions through the program.

A technology that helps bridge the digital divide – Livemint, June 30, 2013

An IVR system allows computers to interact directly with telephone callers through pre-recorded voice prompts and menus. IVR, which uses automation to attend incoming calls, has been around for over two decades and is used by most corporations across the world. […] IVR Junction also allowed US broadcaster Voice of America to deliver breaking news to the war-torn African nation Mali, where people in remote areas dialled a local number to listen to news broadcasts.

Citations of BBG Broadcasters
China Boosts Security In Xinjiang After Bloodshed – AP, June 30, 2013However, U.S. government-backed Radio Free Asia said at least two Uighurs were killed in the Karakax violence, which it said began after Friday prayers at a local mosque that had been raided the week before by police because its resident Imam had defied strict rules on sermon topics. The violence later spread to the city of Hotan, where groups of young men set fires along a major downtown road.Kerry, on Mideast tour, to confront doubts in Asia – Fox News, June 29, 2013″People should not think that, because we are trying to bring peace to an area that has been struggling for 30 years now under the yoke of conflict and dissension, that that means we can’t also pay attention to these other issues,” Kerry told Voice of America during his latest trip.Five Stories You May Have Missed This Week – Enough Project, June 28, 2013

This week, Voice of America published an article giving accolades to Zereda AIDS Information Center group in Yambio, South Sudan for their encouragement to members of their community to get tested and seek treatment. Additionally, the article is a call to action to increase the creation of such groups.

Kerry shuttles between Betanyahu and Abbas – UPI, June 28, 2013

Kerry had met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a late dinner Thursday, Voice of America reported. He planned more talks Friday with Netanyahu after the meeting with Abbas in Jordan.

Genetic mapping of 700,000-year-old horse – Examiner, June 28, 2013

As of this week, today’s horses are a far more ancient species than anyone has ever before proven. A study published on June 26, 2013, in the journal Nature reported findings from scientists who mapped the genetic code of a horse about 700,000 years old, making it the oldest mapped genome of any animal by 10 times (Source: Voice of America News, June 27, 2013).

Military exercise in China’s Xinjiang after ‘terror’ clashes – Bangkok Post, June 29, 2013

The unrest took place in the prefecture of Hotan, where a group “(attacked) a number of people with weapons after gathering at local religious venues”, the state-run Global Times said. It followed clashes on Wednesday which left 35 dead, the worst to hit the western desert region — home to around 10 million members of the Uighur minority — since the 2009 riots. China called the incident a “violent terrorist attack”. Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US government, quoted a source as saying police in Hotan opened fire on Uighurs as they left a local mosque.

Syria: rebels say they’ve overrun army post, and come full circle, in Deraa – Examiner, June 28, 2013

That figure of 100,000 includes 18,000 rebels and 40,000 pro-Assad fighters, according to the Voice of America report, which leaves about 40,000 civilians also dead. Earlier this month, the VOAstates, the United Nations believed about 93,000 people were confirmed dead, but that the actual number is probably much higher.

China presented an eyewash Tibet visit for US ambassador – Tibetan Review, June 30, 2013
China staged a highly orchestrated visit to Tibet’s capital Lhasa by the US ambassador Gary Locke from Jun 25 to 27, presenting to his delegation a happy and peaceful city devoid of all the heavy security that was otherwise routinely present there, reported Radio Free Asia.

Mongolian president wins a second term – Transitions Online, June 28, 2013
Incumbent Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj won a second four-year term in the 26 June election, Radio Free Europe reports.

Of Interest
Our unlikely man in Moscow takes on Putin over human rights, spying and Snowden – NBC World News, June 29, 2013McFaul has taken it all in stride: the angry chants of “Down with the U.S. Embassy” at pro-Putin demonstrations; the growing anti-Americanism of Putin’s third term as president; his crackdown on U.S. institutions like USAID and Voice of America; the evisceration of the anti-Putin movement and the jailing of its key leaders.Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted – New York Times, June 30, 2013In a refracted media world where information comes from everywhere, the line between two “isms” – journalism and activism – is becoming difficult to discern. As American news media have pulled back from international coverage, nongovernmental organizations have filled in the gaps with on-the-scene reports and Web sites. State houses have lost reporters who used to provide accountability, so citizens have turned to digital enterprises, some of which have partisan agendas.

Saudi Arabia jails seven for inciting protests on Facebook – The Guardian, June 30, 2013
Saudi Arabia has sentenced seven activists from its restive Eastern province to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years for posting messages on Facebook calling for anti-government protests, according to Human Rights Watch.

About Us

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting media, whose mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 203 million in more than 100 countries and in 61 languages.  BBG broadcasting organizations include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).

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